Phantasmagoria

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Phantasmagoria on GOG.com

MSRP: $9.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 8/24/95


Phantasmagoria isn’t an amazing game, certainly not if held to modern standards, and you’re unlikely to find it on any “Top Horror Games of All Time” list no matter how big they are.  What it is, however, is an amazingly important game from a historical standpoint.

When Phantastmagoria released in 1995, nothing of this kind had ever been done.  It utilized the talents of 25 different actors, with a 550 page screenplay and more than 1000 unique backgrounds, and it shipped on a mind-blowing 7 CD-ROMs.  Phantasmagoria was an absolute behemoth of its time, written by one of the top names in adventure gaming, and grossing more than 12 million dollars during the week of release.

Despite the limitations of 20 year old technology, it still doesn’t suck.

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I honestly didn’t expect to find it all that creepy anymore, but it holds up decently, if you don’t get hung up on the graphics.   It is not a text input adventure game, everything is point and click, which help it feel a little less dated.  This is both good and bad, as sometimes, clicking on something will give you a reaction you’re not expecting, but it still feels mostly logical (at least as far as adventure games logic goes).  Early on, I found a trap door in the floor of a closet, but I couldn’t open it.  Walking into the next room, there was a fireplace poker I could pick up.  When I went back to the trap door and used the poker on it, the character used the tool to pry open the door.

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There is an in-game hint system, but as long as you’re willing to click on absolutely everything that’s clickable, you shouldn’t need to rely on it overly-much. You can also still find walkthroughs, but I cannot advise strongly enough against it – beating the game in this case is not remotely the same as fully experiencing the game. Just click on everything, ok?

The violence and gore that was super-controversial in 1995 doesn’t remotely compare to what you see on network TV nowadays, although some scenes may be triggering for domestic violence and/or rape. There’s still an option to hide the most violent scenes – from the menu, choose “uncensored” (which is the default) and enter a password of your choosing to turn on censored mode.  If you change your mind, you will need to reenter your password.

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The one thing I haven’t talked at all about is how to make this game play nice with modern operating systems, and the reason is that you don’t have to do anything if you purchase it from GOG.com. The game runs flawlessly and even comes bundled with a manual and a graphical configuration option. I recommend putting the in-game option to full-screen video; although it was a concern at the time, I’m pretty sure even a modern toaster could handle the FMV.

As an old school adventure gamer and horror game fan, I think Phantasmagoria is still worth playing, especially if you never had the opportunity to experience it the first time around.  For me, it was worth the purchase price not to have to try to figure out DOS Box and compatibility issues, but if you’re more technically savvy than me, feel free to look for it for free on an abandonware site. It’s also available on YouTube as Let’s Play videos if you’re more interested in seeing than doing.

One thought on “Phantasmagoria

  1. […] were probably the heyday of point-and-click horror adventure games – these were the days of Phantasmagoria, The 7th Guest, and the Gabriel Knight series – the past few years has seen indie developers […]

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